Yesterday Nick Secret was sentenced by a jury to 23 years in prison for setting Acorn Community on fire back in October of 2013. This is the minimum recommended sentence by the state of Virginia for 9 counts of attempted murder in the first degree (2 years each) and 5 years for felony arson. It is possible judge Sander (who sentenced me to 5 days in jail for trespassing at the North Anna nuclear plant information center in 2010) to reduce this sentence, but he likely will not.
i don’t believe that jail works to rehabilitate prisoners (most just get better criminal training), it is a minimally effective deterrent, and for most of the people at Acorn this does not look like justice.
Fortunately, the defense attorney did not try to put Acorn on trial. Though we were warned by both the police and the commonwealth attorney that they likely would. The reason this strategy might have worked in Nick Secret’s favor was that if the defense attorney could make Acorn look like a bad place, that we were harboring dangerous people (like Nick), has a bizarre culture and behavior then he might win sympathy from the jury for a lesser penalty.
He did foolishly try to make us look bad by trying to point out the peculiar names used in the community. But he did not do his research thoroughly enough.
Defense Attorney: “What do you call Jacqueline?”
Member under Oath: “Jac”
DA: “and what do you call Virginia?”
M: We call her “Ginger”
DA “and what do you call Jason?”
Had he selected more carefully he would have gotten members who we call after Tolkien characters, ancient celestial gods and rainbows. And just because you have an odd name, does not make it right for someone to burn your house down, while you are sleeping in it.
The most fun part of the trial for me personally was when the jury and i were temporarily removed from the court room and i was in the hall by myself with an elderly police officer. He had retired from police work and moved down to Louisa and then decided to take it up again. When i came into the hall with just him he said “I know you”
i was surprised and said “Really?”
“Yes” he replied. “i was working security at the North Anna nuclear power plant when the head of the reactor was talking with the head of the Vermont Yankee reactor. They were both complaining about you getting arrested at their plants.”
I was hugely flattered, for i did not think they were even paying attention. It is worth pointing out that we have successfully shut down Vermont Yankee.
Several people have asked me how i feel about the verdict. My feelings are mixed. I don’t think this punishment will do much other than trash Nick Secret’s life and if i could reduce or eliminate it i would. And it is still unclear Nick is well connected to the pain and suffering his actions caused. I am glad it is over (there will be an appeal, but it likely wont be approved). I am glad it was not damaging to Acorn.
“Is this a friendly game?”
This question gets asked with some regularity where i live, and it has a unique and very specific meaning here. For most of the games we play, it means that we are going to be forgiving when people make mistakes or want to change their move/play. Specifically, it means that if no other game decision has been made by another player, you can go backwards and fix your play on your turn and not be penalized for it.
Occasionally this is frustrating, especially in a game like Dominion, where you might have preferred the inferior play of your opponent, before they got help with their play (either by figuring it out themselves or thru a helpful co-player). And this begs the question, what is the role for “friendly” in competitive gaming culture. i would argue it is huge. In fact, it is more important that people feel good about the game, especially after it is over, than it is that we play by especially rigid rules.
And for “serious gamers” the situation gets worse in games like Magic, where we have Armenian Rules. At the risk of being deemed racist, this rule is at the center of much of the “friendly” play at Twin Oaks and Acorn. The way the Armenian Rule works is if you are manna starved in a particular hand in Magic, you can, by your own determination, draw a land instead of your normal card from the draw.
We also permit the “paradise Mulligan”. Some games permit players who draw a poor or initially unplayable hand to shuffle the cards back into the deck and draw a new hand. Normal Mulligan rules in Magic, for example, are that when you draw your second hand you get one few card. This is a tax for your bad luck or poor deck design. In friendly games we are not interested in bad luck taxes, so you can just draw another full seven card hand. And if you bad luck continues you can draw another one, and so on.
Serious gamers retort that these types of rules are just an excuse to build a badly designed deck, and that if people built better decks this would not happen. And they are on some level right. And since Magic can be an expensive game to build decks for, by using Armenian rules and paradise Mulligans, poor communards need not invest hugely in specific cards that might make the deck work better.
But more importantly, as with most games, Magic is more fun if the score is actually close. Having one player stuck early in the game damages the game for everyone: it degrades the win, it is harder to learn anything, it can discourage you from future games.
We have something of a mix here at Twin Oaks and Acorn. Some folks are uninterested in who has the most points, but rather are in the game so that they can they play some lovely combination of cards or strategy. Most players are excited about a close game, where you have to think hard or get lucky to pull it out in the end. Some folks believe that adhering to the rules makes the games more fair and a truer test of skill.
And in the end it brings up the more philosophical questions as to what is the purpose of games. Some will trivialize them as a waste of time, others will point to them as a social lubricant, i use some games pedagogically. I think most players simply enjoy them, which might just be enough all by itself.
Peter Weish was a graduate student at the prestigious University of Vienna. He was supposed to be studying molecular biology but got pulled into the national referendum to stop the Zwentendorf reactor. It was Austria, it was 1978, and it would prove to be a defining moment in the nation’s political history, and it happened on a train.
Austria is a tiny country, currently with a mere 8.5 million people and a geographic size about that of South Carolina. It is also a country with tremendous self pride, especially in feats of engineering. In the early 1970s the Germans had jumped onto reactors in a big way, and Austria was doing what it could to catch up.
The Zwentendorf ground breaking was in 1972, immediately after construction began an earthquake destroyed the initial foundation which had to be laid again. And after 4 years and about a billion Euros (or the equivalent in Austrian Schillings at the time) the reactor was completed.
Opponents of the the widely popular reactor challenged it and the then Chancellor (like President) Bruno Kreisky decided to bet his political future on the project. He agreed to a referendum of the reactor complex which was nearly finished. Kreisky was a socialist. The labor unions were backing him and the project. Austrian heavy industry was backing the project. The technocrats, which the country has an abundance of, thought this was a lovely plan. What could go wrong?
Turned out it was the train from Salzburg to Vienna that changed history. On his train was the industrious Peter Weish, grad student at U of Vienna. He knew Austria’s only Nobel Prize winner, Konrad Lorenz, because he had taken a class from him. Lorenz was riding in first class, Weish walked through on his way to the dining car. Lorenz recognized him and asked what he was up to in Salzburg. An animated Weish told of the organizing work he was doing around stopping Zwentendorf. Lorenz and his wife were fascinated by Weiss’s thinking and critique. The story has it Lorenz paid for an upgrade to Weiss’s ticket so he could ride first class and continue his story.
At the end of story Weish mentioned that there would be a big rally in Vienna on Sunday. “We should go.” Konrad said to his wife. “And you should speak.” His wife advised.
Turns out in some things technocrats are the same the world over. Often when justifying their fantastically expensive adventures they turn to lines like “Oh it is too complex, you would not understand it, you should trust the experts, they will do the right thing.” Lorenz found this reasoning infuriating.
“If a scientist tells you something is too complex to explain they are either incompetent or lying. ” Lorenz boomed at the rally. It was a turning point for the country. If the most respected scientist in the land was saying the technocrats were misleading the public, then clearly the reactor should not be build.
The referendum was very tight. Over 60% of the country voted and 50.5% voted to stop the reactor. Within months of this vote, the Three Mile Island accident in the US occurred and many Austrians felt vindicated in their “no” vote.
But the amazing thing is that the country having been so divided, quickly became the most powerful and unified voice in the EU parliament for nuclear safety and blocking other reactor initiatives. It is thought the referendum woke up the whole country and gave it unified direction.
Check out these pictures of the back to the land movement in the late 1960s.
Cultural appropriation is a tricky topic, especially for privileged white people, including myself. The idea, as i understand it, is that the dominant group takes culture and fashion from peoples they have oppressed without thinking much about it. And the people who are having their culture borrowed/stolen are yet again abused by the privileged class.
Black face performances are a classic example of cultural appropriate, which is so obviously repulsive now it is almost never done anymore. But what about Mohawks? This is a hairstyle from the indigenous North American natives which has been adopted by the punk movement. This tribe was part of the Iroquois confederacy and like most native cultures in North America was decimated by European settlers who landed after Columbus.
But the very nature of cultural appropriation is tricky, because in some cases the oppressed people who took on the culture borrowed it themselves. This is the case with dreadlocks, which have been popularized as a low maintenance hairstyle which adorns the Rastafarian’s. Is it inappropriate for whites to don dreadlocks? Does it matter that before the Rastifarians embraced them they were the style from multiple cultures from around the world, of different racial ancestry? Does it matter that some of these ancient cultures (like the Sufis) want their style emulated while some Rastifarians do not?
For me it gets even worse with the use of the word Babylon. Babylon is also used by the Rastafarian culture and some people get upset when i use it as a piece of cultural appropriation. But the Rastifarians got the term from the early Christians, of multiple races and classes.
From Truth FAQ
What is Babylon? In literal terms, Babylon was a city in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). It was known for its great wealth, impressive walls and buildings, hanging gardens and its codes of law. Metaphorically, it is referenced many times in the Christian bible as a symbol of great evil and sin; it has also be used by other cultures/groups to symbolize various things, e.g. the Rastafarian movement uses the term to describe the system that has oppressed them. ‘Babylon’ is used here as a metaphor to describe the system of control that has enslaved humanity via the legal name. In particular it refers to the system of commerce that the entire world has been made subject to. There is no doubt in my mind that dominant races and cultures need to pay attention to issues of cultural appropriate and avoid simply snapping up things they find stylish, cute or trendy. At the same time, many cultural components have multiple histories and complex origins which can be celebrated and respected.
And there is something which feels highly appropriate about calling the mainstream society “Babylon” and the people who live in it “Babylonians”, as contrasted to communards or other folks who choose to fall out of mainstream lifestyles. The symbolism of Babylon as a grand city which embodies the problems of the contemporary world feels apt.
And i expect there will be some displeased comments on this post from friends and advisers who feel this practice is ill advised.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.
The new kids on the block are actually the old kids from the block, they are just back with a very politically potent offer which will hopefully be a new direction for the squatting movement – but i am getting ahead of myself, let’s begin at the beginning.
Freedonia is awesome. They have pioneered a new approach to squatting which makes it more resilient. They have tricked the police into giving them abandoned buildings. They host clever workshops, feed local and poor people for free and throw bad ass parties. All in an undisclosed location, in the shadow of serious urban decay, somewhere on the east coast of the US, far from anywhere Dick Cheney would think of hanging out.
An adventurous group of Freedonians (which is quite redundant phrase actually) set off on a bike tour to New Orleans. They called themselves the Vultures. There were puppet shows, there were narrow escapes from the police, there were complex polyamorous topographies – all the good things you would expect from our intrepid travelers. And there were lots of talks around open fires about how to step things up back in Freedonia.
Normal people would have looked at the impressive accomplishments of this full featured set of squats and said “well, we have done quite enough and we are already impressive and sustainable just the way we are”. But the Vultures would not know normal if it came at them with a knife (i’d bet on the Vultures in this fight though, normal don’t got a chance).
They decided they would kick it up a level and start income sharing. They returned from their bike tour, promptly broke into a house not far from their original places (which they had let others move into while they were on the bike tour and they did not want them to leave when they returned) and squatted it. And thus Vulture House was born.
They then offered to all of the other Freedonians to join them in this income sharing adventure. Readers of this blog will not be surprised that i think sharing and especially income sharing are instrumental in saving the world. We don’t know how many other local squatters will bite, but the Vultures are pretty compelling.
Stay tuned for more tales of intrepid revolutionaries from undisclosed locations.